Record crowds enjoy 53rd Annual Wikwemikong Cultural Festival

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WIKWEMIKONG—You couldn’t have asked for better weather at the Wikwemikong powwow this year as the gentle cloud cover and slight breeze combined with moderate temperatures to provide near perfect conditions for the more than 200 registered competition dancers who were joined by dozens more who just like to take part in the dancing.

The grand entry on Saturday was led by Wikwemikong Chief Duke Peltier of the Bear clan carrying the Wikwemikong Eagle Staff and Garrett Peltier of the Deer clan bearing aloft the Wikwemikong Youth Eagle Staff, the Wikwemikong traditional powwow staff borne by Tim Recollet, the Niigaanzikib Eagle Staff carried by Makela Shawana, the Veteran Staff carried by Henry Eshkibok, the Warriors Eagle Staff borne by Henry Eshkibok, nephew of the late Second World War veteran Robert Eshkibok, and the Anishnabemowin Eagle Staff carried by Stephen George.

The Chiefs of Ontario flag was carried in by Grand Council Chief Stan Beardy, the Canadian flag by Reid Christie of the First Hussars Canadian Forces, the American flag was carried by US Marine Corps Corporal Wayne Pitawanakwat, the Wikwemikong flag was carried by Jerry Otajiwan-Lewis, the US Marine Corps flag by Robert Eshkibok, the MIA flag was borne by Robyn Eshkibok, US Marine Corps, the Forgotten Ones flag was carried by Paul Williams of Wikwemikong and the Currently Serving Soldiers flag was carried by US Army Staff Sergeant Gaberial Bennett of Sagamok, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Head veteran was Gabriel Bennett of Sagamok and veterans were represented in the grand entry by Elaine Trudeau and Ida Embry and Josphine Eshkibok of Branch 177 of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Arena director was Dare Trudeau and the head male dancer was Barry Ace of M’Chigeeng and head female dancer was Crystal Abel of Sault Ste. Marie (Wikwemikong).

Head drum judge was Mark Lavallee of Cape Croker.

Master of ceremonies for the powwow was the redoubtable veteran of powwow patter Chris Pheasant, ably spelled off at the microphone by his co-emcee, famed Anishnaabe comedian Ryan McHahon.

Chief Peltier honoured the hometown country music darling on behalf of the community by wrapping her in a star quilt during a ceremony held in front of the assembled crowd. “We too often wait to honour those among us who have accomplished great things,” he said. The symbolism of the blanket, he explained, was to wrap Ms. Shawanda, an accomplished country singer who returns each year to hold a homecoming concert for her local fans, in the love and admiration of her community.

Following the ceremony, Ms. Shawanda was swarmed by a crowd of adoring fans, both young and old, as the emcee implored the crowd of admirers to follow the country star to the cultural pavilion where she was to hold a meet and greet, answer questions from her fans and sign autographs.

Upon arriving at the pavilion, Ms. Shawanda spent a few moments learning about the history of artifacts displayed by artist and historical lecturer Mike Cywink before beginning her session.

Among the artifacts on display were examples of worked raw natural copper, stone and flint tools and various implements in Mr. Cywink’s extensive collection.

Ms. Shawanda fielded questions from young and old, and shared reminiscences with her adoring fans. One young admirer asked what Ms. Shawanda’s first song was (Silent Night taught to her by her father), while another asked whether she wore pretty dresses. “Yes, I get to wear many pretty dresses,” laughed the country star. “But when I am just coming out to enjoy the powwow I like to just kick back and relax and wear something comfortable to be with my friends.”

Meanwhile, back at the main stage in front of the powwow grounds, a bevy of cameras and banks of computers and switches were making some Wikwemikong Powwow history of their own, as this year marks the first time the event was simulcast around the world through live streaming over the Internet.

“We just checked in with some friends who are just sitting down to dinner in Israel,” said Wiky TV5’s Gordie Odjig. “They tell us the sound and video is coming through loud and clear 6,000 miles away.” Mr. Odjig was working with an information technology crew that included Rudy McKenzie, Nicole Corbiere, James Hopkin and Fawn Aibens.

Beside the pavilion a host of international videographers and documentary journalists were busily collecting footage for several private and public projects at major news networks from around the world.

On the stage behind the emcees, tabulators Bernadine and Verna Francis were hunkered down in front of a computer screen, carefully inputting the scores provided by the judges.

The popular drum group Chippewa Singers sat beneath a mic-festooned stand, recording their next CD live onsite under the watchful eye (and ear) of producer Randy Todd of Tribal Spirit Music. Mr. Todd noted that although the Anishnaabe music market could definitely be considered a niche, it is by no means without a significant market segment of its own.

As part of the cultural experience of the festival a number of workshops took place, including learning basic conversational words in Anishnaabemowin, the history of the Wampum Belts, Species at Risk, dialogues on government and the Art and Artifacts of the Anishinaabek.

A host of vendors stood ready to supply arts and crafts to the powwow visitors including some fairly new options such as a series of comic books in the Anishinaabe language and an art show under a tent celebrated, among other works, the carvings of accomplished Anishinaabe carver William Bondy.

Michael Erskine